river, or an ear of corn. The tribes living on the east of Jordan, separated from their brethren on the west by the deep ravines and the rapid river, gradually came to adopt peculiar customs, and from mixing largely with the Moabites, Ishmaelites, and Ammonites to pronounce certain letters in such a manner as to distinguish them from the other tribes. Thus when the Ephraimites from the west invaded Gilead, and were defeated by the Gileadites under the leadership of Jephthah, and tried to escape by the "passages of the Jordan," the Gileadites seized the fords and would allow none to pass who could not pronounce "shibboleth" with a strong aspirate. This the fugitives were unable to do. They said "sibboleth," as the word was pronounced by the tribes on the west, and thus they were detected (Judg. 12:1-6 ). Forty-two thousand were thus detected, and
"Without reprieve, adjudged to death, For want of well-pronouncing shibboleth."
(a stream ), ( Judges 12:6 ) is the Hebrew word which the Gileadites under Jephthah made use of at the passage of the Jordan, after a victory over the Ephraimites, to test the pronunciation of the sound sh by those who wished to cross over the river. The Ephraimites, it would appear, in their dialect substituted for sh the simple sound s ; and the Gileadites, regarding every one who failed to pronounce sh as an Ephraimite and therefore an enemy, put him to death accordingly. In this way there fell 42,000 Ephraimites. There is no mystery in this particular word. Any word beginning with the sound sh would have answered equally well as a test.
A test of speech applied by the men of Gilead to the Ephraimites, who wished to cross the Jordan, after defeat. If they pronounced the word cibboleth, their dialectic variety of speech betrayed them. (Judges 12:6). The word probably has the sense of stream or "flood" (compare Psalms 69:2).
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